New Norwich running group leaves no-one behind
- Credit: Norfolk Gazelles
“There’s a runner in everyone,” says run leader Sarah Boone, handing round soft drinks and biscuits.
It’s a sunny evening in early June and Norwich Social Joggers have just finished one of their Monday training sessions. The members of this running group don’t go straight home after a group workout – they’re encouraged to stay for a drink and a biscuit, have a chat and get to know each other.
Norwich Social Joggers is a running group that prides itself on inclusivity.
It was established by Stephen Pizey in spring 2021. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, Stephen – a keen runner and, as he is the first to admit, not a fast one – created a chat group to keep himself and some running friends motivated.
“For long months, all we had to keep in touch and look after each other was a chat group,” he remembers. “During this period, we laughed, we cried; we even had virtual running trips and holidays all from our own homes, isolated. We managed to hold everyone together through the tough times.”
Stephen, who holds the England Athletics Leadership in Running Fitness qualification, realised how much getting out for a run meant to his group. When lockdown eased, he needed to find a way of keeping the positivity going – and that this didn’t necessarily mean joining an established running club.
“I had the idea of starting up a new running group for those who wanted to get out for a run to help with their wellbeing and mental health,” he says. “I found most of my running group enjoyed a casual run rather than running at club level, and were all excited about the idea of a new running group on a smaller scale, rather than a club.”
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Run leader Trudi Smith had also had doubts about joining an established club. “I love what Steve has done with a non-competitive group,” she says. “A group that would benefit those who feel daunted by a big club.”
Norwich Social Joggers, which is registered with England Athletics RunTogether, began at the end of lockdown with runs in groups of two, and then six people. Now restrictions have eased, they are able to meet as a larger group and have attracted almost 30 new members via their Facebook page.
The group’s ethos is all about making every runner feel welcome, especially those who want to run but who may not have felt confident enough to join a club. No runner is ever considered “too slow” so there’s no stress about getting left behind. The group takes part in races (they made their debut at Norfolk Gazelles’ Valentines 10k in May), but racing is very much for those who want to, rather than an expectation.
Group members enjoying a drink and a snack after the Monday session certainly seem to feel welcome. “I saw them out running,” says Dibs McCallum. “They always seemed to have a laugh.”
“I tried a few other groups, but I was always the one at the back,” says Suzanne Clarke. “I saw this group and liked the word ‘social’ and the fact that it was ‘joggers’. On my first night I ran a 5km. Everyone stayed with me.”
During the lockdowns, we’ve all become more aware of how important exercise and being outside are to our mental health. “I work on my own at home as a childminder,” says group member Sonia Ford. “I don’t see anyone. My family all go out to work all day but I’m at home with young children. This group enables me to get out. It’s done wonders for my mental health.”
Run leader Sarah feels the same. “Last year, I had some personal problems,” she says, “but with the support of friends I’ve made in this group, life is absolutely amazing now. I’ve found running the best form of medicine for me and my life has improved 100 percent.”
Thanks to sponsorship from local businesses including Mr Plastic, Stephen has been able to produce bespoke running tops for the group and is currently planning to enter some more 5km and 10km races later in the year.
In the meantime, the group will continue to meet (subject of course to Covid restrictions) and welcomes new members. “I’ve seen people come and go at running clubs because they feel they’re not good enough,” says Stephen. “I’d like to change that. They are good enough.”
[BLOB] Norwich Social Joggers meet on Monday and Thursday evenings. For more details, visit “Norwich Social Joggers” on Facebook.